A teacher at a last-chance school witnesses the struggle to forgive and to ask forgiveness.
The students enter the building through a side door, where they promptly submit backpacks and any other personal items to the New York Police Department safety agent who greets them at the steps. There's a male agent for the boys, a female for the girls. Everyone is scanned for weapons, cellphones, and drugs upon entering the building. Some of the more committed students have hidden items inside a shoe, their underwear, the lining of a wig. The rest have scattered belongings in various spots throughout the neighborhood. It's Monday morning at one of New York City's Level 5 yearlong suspension sites. I teach English here.
I used to remark to friends and relatives that I would gladly teach any kid in the city. Oh, really? When I made this statement, I was working at a large traditional high school in New York. We had sports teams and a band. I signed yearbooks and hugged parents at graduation. Then things changed. The school was declared "dangerous." The faculty was forced to find new positions. So how do I describe this strange, new teaching universe I've entered, one that was clearly not my first choice? It has become the greatest lesson in human dignity I've ever had.